WORKS WELL WITH OTHERS? Nightline is doing a brief look at the possible commitment of U.S. troops to Liberia. Put in context, there are troops deployed in some 130 countries, including 10,000 in Afghanistan and 130,000 in Iraq. That's as good a time as any to mention a little bit of my summer reading and join the conversation about the international institutions and the role of the United States within them. Victor Davis Hanson prefers to look inward: " Keep quieter and carry a far bigger stick. Methodically and politely transfer, redeploy, and reduce troops from countries that have opposed our efforts of the past two years or whose populations simply profess no overt support for the United States." Two presenters to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, on book tours, presented a different perspective (first mentioned in these pages here.) Newsweek's Michael Hirsh, recent author of At War with Ourselves (details or comparison shopping) advances the thesis that go-it-alone in either the Clintonian or Bush the Younger model doesn't quite work, and both administrations eased, ultimately, toward working more with others. Perhaps that's what's at work with respect to Liberia -- some U.S. cooperation in Africa, some French and U.N. help in Iraq. Hirsh notes that U.N. workers are already active in Afghanistan doing what he characterizes as the "scutwork" of nation building. In addition, German and Norwegian forces have gone in harms way there.
Such cooperation would please Clyde Prestowitz, a trade negotiator during the Reagan Administration. He was touring his somewhat more polemical Rogue Nation (details -- compare prices.) Prestowitz's book is a bit hard to figure -- it is as if he concedes all the criticisms of the blame-America-first crowd and then offers a series of "yeah, but ..." responses. For instance, he proposes a reorganization of the U.N. Security Council with a European Union representative rather than the U.K. and France. He notes that President Bush may have missed an opportunity in September 2001 to assure the U.S. that the rest of the world doesn't hate us, and to thank the rest of the world for their outpouring of support (you may recall the unofficial "thanks" websites that went around the internet in those days.) His proposal that the U.S. ratify the Kyoto Treaty as amended rings a bit hollow, as does his complaint that one or two key Senators can hold up a treaty. If memory serves, it was more like 95 Senators that held up Kyoto, and the U.S. Constitution ought to count for something in our decision making. (To grant unelected international bureaucrats the ability to trump the Constitution is to grant somebody -- in the best case a benevolent bureaucrat -- despotic powers easily abused.) His thinking about the euro as a competing reserve currency has strengths and weaknesses. Many years ago, Jane Jacobs (I think it was in Life and Death of Great American Cities) noted that the currency union called the United States inflicted steep adjustment costs on cities that fell on hard times, because they could not devalue their currency relative to other cities. Something similar will be at work within Europe -- France can no longer devalue the franc (or have franc traders bid it down relative to other currencies) to cope with its recent difficulties exporting to the United States. Lots of food for thought.